Speak to any player, manager or fan that has travelled to Celtic Park to face The Bhoys in a European encounter and you will no doubt hear countless tales of an unbelievable atmosphere, with passion pouring from the stands in a match day environment that is up their with the best in the world.
As the Champions League returns tonight, the Parkhead faithful are getting ready to recreate a cauldron of noise, the sort of noise that can be only generated by 60,000 fans who know the odds are stacked against them, but will roar their team on regardless because they know they can make the difference.
Will it be a gallant final assault before a predictable end? Or a calculated effort to achieve the unthinkable? Perhaps a bit of both. Neil Lennon’s men will start tonight as underdogs against Italian giants Juventus, but they will know that, having already exceeded expectations this season, there is absolutely nothing to lose and little to prove.
Having beaten Barcelona in the group stage to qualify for the round of 16 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, Celtic have won many plaudits during their European adventure this season. It’s not the style of play that has grabbed the attention, but the attitude of a middle-weight fighter, wheeling punches furiously, in an honourable attempt to knock out a much bigger and better equipped opponent.
Juventus might not have the global appeal of the trophy-laden Barcelona anymore, but they’re on course to make it two titles in two seasons in Serie A, having gone the whole of last season’s league campaign unbeaten. Juventus are hoping that their current team can start to recreate the glory years of the 90′s, a golden era for Italian football.
If Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were rocked by Celtic Park’s infernal cauldron, Juventus should be wary but, as Kris Commons candidly put it: ”Juventus are no mugs, it’s not like they’ve never seen this sort of atmosphere before.
“I don’t think this is a tougher proposition than Barcelona. I think playing against arguably the best team in the world is a tougher game on paper but I think we’re playing for something a lot bigger.”
Therein lies the key to Celtic’s hopes of success. Having overcome Barcelona, The Hoops will need their crowd to propel them forward, but the players must remain focussed on the bigger picture, a picture that will be developed over 180 minutes, rather than 90.
A spectacular and full blooded Italian assault by the men in green and white might get the crowd fired up even further, but it could lower Celtic’s guard dangerously and European football is the sort of ring where a single punch could prove the difference between winning and losing. The team need to tread carefully.
Since the draw was made, the media hype has been firmly focused on Cristiano Ronaldo’s impending return to Old Trafford in a white shirt, so much so that even other glamour ties such as AC Milan vs. Barcelona and Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich have been overlooked in the British media.
With Manchester United facing a formidable opponent, and Arsenal’s patchy form proving to be a stark contrast with Bayern’s swashbuckling, ruthless progress this season, Neil Lennon’s men could prove to be Britain’s dark horse in the round of 16.
A season that started under a dark cloud for Scottish football, with the blue half of Glasgow falling victim of the taxman, has overseen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes and the irony would have not been lost on Neil Lennon.
“When I took on the job I didn’t imagine a game like this, when you consider where we were and the progress that we have made, we don’t want to stop now at the last 16.” said the Celtic manager
60,000 heads will be nodding in approval come Tuesday night, it could be Celtic’s time to fly the flag for both Scottish and British football after a string of performances that have captured the spirit of what football is all about – pride and passion, not money and glamour. Celtic, and their fans, are keeping the spirit of football alive.